Nahat Ruah Le-Nashim (Women's Spiritual Satisfaction)
Jewish law presents this concept as the legal basis for granting women the option to perform commandments from which they are exempt, thereby bringing them spiritual satisfaction. The original source, found in the midrash halakhah (Sifra Vayikra, Dibura de-Nedava 2:2), is quoted in the Babylonian Talmud (BT Hagigah 16b, see also BT Rosh ha-Shanah 33a and BT Eruvin 96a–b): “The daughters of Israel may perform the laying of hands on a voluntary basis. Said R. Yose: Abba Eleazar told me: Once we had a calf designated as a peace-sacrifice, and we brought it to the Women’s Court and the women performed laying of hands on it. Not that the women were obligated to do so, but in order to give them nahat ruah—spiritual satisfaction.” The Talmud discusses the precedent of women’s participation in the Temple, in the commandment of semikhah (Leviticus, 1:2–4), to lay one’s hands on the sacrifice in order to attain atonement, and its subsequent broad application to other commandments. This powerful meta-halakhic concept overrides both biblical and rabbinic prohibitions in order to permit women’s participation in these rituals. On a large scale, the Sages disregarded the biblical prohibition of bal tosif (Deuteronomy 4:2, 13:1), adding to the commandments prescribed by God, in order to satisfy women’s desire for participation. On a smaller scale, in some specific commandments the concept of nahat ruah overruled relevant prohibitions. Women performed semikhah despite the appearance of transgressing the biblical prohibition of me’ilah (Leviticus 5:15–16), misusing God’s consecrated property. Women and men may carry and blow the shofar for women despite both the biblical prohibition of carrying from one domain to another objects, which are not needed for the commandments of the day, and the Rabbinic prohibition of blowing a musical instrument on the holiday. Based on the concept of nahat ruah, Ashkenazi authorities permit women to say blessings on these voluntary commandments despite the biblical prohibition of taking God’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7). Although women are exempted from certain commandments, the legal tradition values their spiritual experience of these rituals.
Rashi, Tosefot: Ha-R. Yehuda and Rashba on BT Rosh Ha-Shanah 33a; Tosafot: La’asot Nahat Ruah Le-Nashim on BT Hagigah 16b; Ran Rosh Ha-Shanah (9b Rif); Rosh Rosh Ha-Shanah 3:7; Shulhan Arukh Ha-Rav: Rosh Ha-Shanah 589:2; Sha’agat Aryeh Responsum #106; Iggerot Moshe, Orah Hayyim 3:94, Terumat Ha-Deshen 2:132; Responsa Poskei Uziel She’elot ha-Zeman #44; Responsa Ziz Eliezer 14:53.